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Small Business - A Special Advertising Supplement sponsored by Scotiabank - Monday, October 22, 2001

Technology rides to the rescue of SMEs

Monday, October 22, 2001

Smaller businesses face some bigger challenges in the wake of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, but Ray Boggs believes technology can help.

Even though managers may be far away from ground zero in New York, the vice-president of International Data Corp.'s small-business and home-office research division says they must deal with the ripple effect of an economic downturn, heightened security and travel-weary employees.

"Now more than ever, small firms need to really understand the nature of the community they operate in," Boggs explains.

"Getting closer to your employees, getting closer to your customers and forming a tighter bond with them is really important," he adds. "Technology can play a major role in that."

Like many people, Boggs and his analyst colleagues have reflected on the attacks in the United States, revising predictions -- based on a survey done the past summer -- that small-businesses spending on technology would grow by 4 per cent.

That estimate has been halved to only 2 per cent, but it still represents an attractive, growing market for hardware and software providers. And although it's a sign that small businesses are tightening their belts for uncertain times, Boggs warns that they shouldn't stop investing in technology altogether.

"The real danger is that they may end up losing their competitive advantage," he says.

Broadband Internet access is still ranked among IDC's "stellar performers" in its small-businesses technology outlook; this pipeline to the Web allows employees to send and receive more information faster, so they're working instead of waiting.

The newest such offering from Bell Canada is a three-Mbps (megabits per second), high-speed Internet service tailored for "Internet-intensive" small businesses that transfer large files or multimedia applications.

"It levels the playing field," says Brad Fisher, director of product development at Bell's Internet Service Provider unit.

"Small businesses -- be they graphic-design firms, architects or advertising agencies -- are competing with much larger organizations.

"They need to be able to meet their customers' needs just as fast, if not faster, than their competitors."

The new service costs about $120 a month and is available on a monthly or yearly contract. Bell has waived the usual $250 activation fee for customers who install it on their own before the end of the year.

Once they're connected to the Net, many small businesses find they can be even more productive by cutting the cord altogether -- and going wireless.

IDC considers wireless local area networks as "potential high flyers, but still on the launching pad."

However, but LANs can help workers become as mobile inside the office as they are outside.

"You can change your layout at a snap with a wireless LAN," says Pam Norton, manager of wireless products at Compaq Canada Corp. "Imagine not having to mess around with wires, but having the flexibility to move around all of your network products where and when you want to."

Compaq Canada will soon unveil its iPAQ Connection Point CP-2W Wireless Broadband Gateway, an intriguing product already available in the United States that promises "to take the guesswork out of networking."

Well equipped and reasonably priced at around $475, it comes with enough ports for four computers and can handle more with an additional hub.

It has a wireless range of up to 91 metres and can transmit data at speeds of up to 11 Mbps.

The sleek-looking device can easily connect to cable or DSL Internet access and has a built-in firewall and 128-bit wireless encryption technology, the highest level available on the market today.

It also has a virtual private networking, or VPN, "pass-through" so workers can securely access their company's computer network when they're on the road.

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